Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (November 6, 2020)

What else did you expect with the US elections this year? It is still 2020, afterall.

Regardless of who ultimately wins the Presidency and the remaining Senate and House seats, what are the odds that over the next four years the government will actually take any action on improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure, “the burning platform that is most likely to cause catastrophic failures in the supply chain,” as one of our Indago members put it?

Transportation infrastructure is always the can that gets kicked down the road, and with everyone (understandably) focused on the pandemic right now, it is even further down the priority list.

But I digress. From what? I don’t know.

Here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

Walmart Fires Its Shelf-Scanning Robots

What impact will robots and computers have on supply chain and logistics jobs? Late last year, we asked our Indago members for their take on automation technology in the industry.

Consistent with a similar question asked by the Pew Research Center, 78% of our Indago member respondents believe that within the next 30 years robots and computers will “probably” or “definitely” do much of the work done by humans today (see Robots Will Take Your Job, Not Mine).

When it comes to scanning shelves, however, it seems like humans will keep their jobs at Walmart, at least for now.

As Sarah Nassauer reports in the Wall Street Journal, “Walmart has ended its effort to use roving robots in store aisles to keep track of its inventory, reversing a yearslong push to automate the task with the hulking machines after finding during the coronavirus pandemic that humans can help get similar results.”

Nassauer adds, “Walmart ended the partnership [with robotics company Bossa Nova Robotics Inc.] because it found different, sometimes simpler solutions that proved just as useful, said people familiar with the situation.”

Despite the ongoing advancements in technology, and the impulse for many companies to chase the next, shiny new thing, the KISS principle still applies: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Coupa Acquires LLamasoft, Descartes Acquires ShipTrack

The last time I was surprised by an acquisition was in 2008, when Brambles (best known for its CHEP brand) acquired LeanLogistics, a software-as-a-service transportation management system provider. Why was a pallet pooling company acquiring a TMS?

Eight years later, Brambles changed course and sold LeanLogistics to Kewill, with both companies ultimately evolving into today’s BluJay Solutions.

I was surprised again this week by Coupa’s acquisition of LLamasoft. Why was a Business Spend Management software provider acquiring a Supply Chain Design solution provider for $1.5 billion?

Here’s what Rob Bernshteyn, chairman and CEO at Coupa, says in the press release:

“We are witnessing an unprecedented shift in what businesses are demanding to effectively manage their supply chains. They need instant visibility, agile planning capabilities, and timely risk mitigation support. LLamasoft’s deep supply chain expertise and sophisticated data science and modeling capabilities, combined with the roughly $2 trillion of cumulative transactional spend data we have in Coupa, will empower businesses with the intelligence needed to pivot on a dime. Together, we will deliver a more powerful Business Spend Management platform to help organizations everywhere maximize the value of every dollar they spend in a smarter, simpler, and safer way.”

I’ve been a big proponent of Supply Chain Design for many years. In fact, one of my predictions for 2015 was that more companies will treat Supply Chain Design as a continuous business process instead of a standalone project or a once-a-year exercise. Following LLamasoft’s user conference in 2015, I shared the following key takeaways (read the post for details about each):

The line between Supply Chain Design and Supply Chain Planning is fading. Supply Chain Design is so much more than technology — it is a vibrant community of people who all share a common interest in learning, teaching, and growing the discipline. The next frontier for Supply Chain Design is Collaborative Supply Chain Design. Obviously, LLamasoft’s technology has evolved significantly over the past five years, but I believe these three takeaways remain true today — especially the point about Supply Chain Design being much more than technology, how it’s also a community.

I haven’t been briefed yet by the company, so I look forward to learning more about the envisioned synergies and value proposition for clients. But at first glance, aside from specific applications (using supply chain design to inform sourcing decisions), it’s a bit of a head scratcher.

Much less surprising is Descartes’ acquisition of ShipTrack, “a leading provider of ecommerce final-mile solutions.” Here are some details from the press release:

Headquartered in Canada, ShipTrack provides cloud-based mobile resource management and shipment tracking solutions. These solutions help customers automate dispatch, updates on shipment status and estimated time of arrival (ETA), and eliminate paper-based delivery processes. ShipTrack’s highly-configurable and scalable platform is particularly well-suited for the e-commerce home delivery, parcel and medical courier markets, helping these companies efficiently manage final-mile deliveries.

“We believe there is a permanent shift in buying preferences underway that will continue to see an increasing number of goods being bought online,” said Edward J. Ryan, Descartes’ CEO. “Descartes continues to invest in our e-commerce capabilities to make sure that our customers, large and small, can fulfil orders and meet delivery commitments efficiently. ShipTrack complements this strategy, and, when combined with our advanced Routing, Mobile and Telematics suite of solutions, fills a gap in the market. We’re looking forward to working with the ShipTrack customers, partners and team of domain experts to help the final-mile carrier community capitalize on these changing market dynamics.”

This acquisition aligns with what I wrote back in May in Contactless Delivery: Because Paperless Is No Longer Enough: “COVID-19 is serving as a catalyst for change and innovation. Contactless delivery is one example, and it will continue to evolve over time, enabled by new technologies and services. The days of paper-based delivery processes are numbered. Contactless is the new standard.”

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Shaken” by David Shaw